Trinity

When Christians speak of ‘God’, it is actually shorthand for the Holy Trinity. God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. – God the Holy Trinity can be symbolized not as 1 + 1 + 1 = 3 but, rather, 1 x 1 x 1 = 1. God is one. God is three. Each of the three ‘Persons’ of the Trinity is fully God in and of themselves, and yet each of the three Persons of the Trinity is distinct from each other.

A tale is told about several children who found a dead bird, a robin, while they were playing outside. Feeling that a proper burial was in order, they took a small box, lined it with cotton wool, dug a hole in the back garden, and made ready to dispose of the deceased bird. The minister’s 5-year-old son was chosen to say the prayer. And so with great dignity, he intoned, “Glory be to the Father, and unto the Son… and into the hole he goes.”

In 1562 (during the Reformation) the Church of England affirmed its doctrinal beliefs in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion; and the very first article or statement declares:

‘There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power and eternity; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.’

Holy Trinity = Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Unholy trinity = the world, the flesh and the devil

Christian trinity = Faith, hope and love.

If Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II were to walk through the door of our church this morning, we would stand in her presence as a mark of respect and, most likely, we would recite the National Anthem. Well, let’s stand now, in the presence of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, and let’s affirm our faith in our Triune-God, saying together the Nicene Creed, our ‘Christian Inter-National Anthem’.

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic* and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.
Amen.

*note: catholic (with a small ‘c’) means worldwide

I remember, as a new Christian, getting really confused over who it is that we actually mean when we say the name, Lord? When we say Lord are we meaning God (as in the Father, the Lord God Almighty) or do we mean Jesus (as in the Lord Jesus Christ) or do we mean the Spirit of the Lord, the Holy Spirit?

I have since been to Bible College and have a degree in theology and so I now know that when Christians speak of God or the Lord it’s actually shorthand for the Holy Trinity… even if most Christians are not be able to articulate it quite like that.

I remember as a new Christian being told by a friend that he went prayer-walking and he talked to the Lord and so I asked him to define ‘the Lord’: “Who exactly do you talk to? Who are you addressing your prayers to, when you say ‘Lord’?” His answer was simply Jesus… Jesus is Lord.

That seemed straightforward enough. So for a while I copied my friend and not really understanding what he told me, I started to pray my prayers exclusively to Jesus. However, after a couple of days I knew that something wasn’t quite right! I thought it a bit odd – maybe even inappropriate – to open a prayer with, “Dear Jesus,” and then to close it with, “through Jesus Christ.” Somehow it didn’t quite have the right ring to it. I knew that something was amiss! In the end God graciously gave me personal understanding in a vision (a waking dream) where I heard God speak to me in what sounded like my own voice and went something like this… ‘Ian think of book:

  1. The author of the book is its creator. God the Father is like the author; He is Creator.
  2. The actual book itself, the thing we hold in our hands, is the author’s physical representation of himself; it is the material substance or body that we can see, touch and relate to. Jesus is like the book; He is the actual and physical representation of the Author.
  3. When we read the book we are actually listening to the author himself, and when we understand and connect with what we read, we feel we know the author personally and there’s a connection or relationship between the author and the reader. That’s like the Holy Spirit. – The Holy Spirit is the presence of the author with us through the book.

The author or creator is God the Father. The book (the physical substance) is God the Son. The words that speak to us through the book is (the presence of the author with us) the Holy Spirit. – The author, the book and the presence are one and same; yet they are three in one.’ – R. Ian Seymour

As an aside, I love the way Joyce Meyer explains how we sometimes hear God’s voice: “When God started speaking to Samuel, Samuel thought his master, Eli, was speaking to him (see 1 Samuel 3:4-6). Both times Eli said to Samuel, “I did not call you.” After this happened a third time, Eli finally realised God was calling Samuel. God spoke to Samuel in a familiar voice that was familiar to him so that he would not be frightened. Samuel was accustomed to hearing Eli’s voice; therefore, when God called to him, it sounded like Eli. Likewise, God wants us to listen to him, so He speaks to us through a voice that we will recognise. Sometimes it may sound like our own voice.”

Joyce Meyer, The Everyday Life Bible, (Faith Words 2018, p.423)

As Christians we worship our triune God: we have God as our Father, Jesus Christ as our Saviour and the Holy Spirit as our in-dweller. These three equal and yet individual persons of the godhead we refer to as the Trinity – trinity simply means tri-unity: there’s plurality in God’s unity. Within the Trinity there is perfect unity in diversity. God is a community in diversity… and that’s what He wants for us. In the church there is meant to be unity in diversity. Just as the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – are a community in diversity, so is the Christian church; we are a community in diversity; unified but diverse. We are all different, and we all have different views and opinions and different tastes. However, our unity means that our diversity does not become division. And our diversity means that our unity does not become uniformity. If Jesus truly is Lord in our lives, then there should be unity in the church. Division and dissension in the church only weakens our united testimony! We are not created to be the same. We are not meant to become carbon copies of each other. We are created with differences; there’s variety between us and this is meant to be harmonious and complimentary. We are a community in diversity.

Adapted from Explore Bible notes

John Stott found it helpful for many years, at the beginning of each day, to recite the following trinitarian liturgy, which begins with praise and ends in prayer:

Almighty and everlasting God, Creator and Sustainer of the universe,
I worship you.
Lord Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world,
I worship you.
Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the people of God,
I worship you.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,
world without end.
Amen.

Heavenly Father, I pray that this day
I may live in your presence and please you more and more.
Lord Jesus Christ, I pray that this day
I may take up my cross and follow you.
Holy Spirit, I pray that this day
your fruit may ripen in my life – love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Holy, Blessed and glorious Trinity,
three persons and one God, have mercy on me.
Amen.

John Stott, Through The Bible Through The Year, Abingdon: Candle Books (2006), p.296

The word ‘Trinity’ doesn’t actually appear anywhere in the Bible. In fact, it was the Latin speaking theologian Tertullian (c160-220A.D.) who invented the word ‘Trinity’ (Latin: Trinitas), to explain that the three persons of the God-head are distinct yet not divided, different yet not separate or independent of each other.’ Although the word ‘Trinity’ isn’t mentioned in the Bible, the doctrine of the Trinity; of God being the Triune God – one God in three Persons, or three persons and one substance (or Being) as we say in the Nicene Creed – is a doctrine that is absolutely founded in Scripture, both in the Old Testament and especially in the New Testament. Here are some other noteworthy examples; no doubt you’ll recognise some of them:

  • In fact, from the very opening verses of Genesis the Trinity is hinted at… “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty. Darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2). Here we see God the Father, as creator, and God the Holy Spirit hovering over the waters.
  • You recall that John (one of the twelve disciples) and the author of John’s gospel, calls Jesus the ‘Word’ to make the point that Jesus is God: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made’ (John 1:1-3). Jesus was there in the beginning and He was involved in creation… Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
  • In Genesis 1v26-27 God said: “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness… (Who is God talking to in the plural? It’s the Trinity.) So God created man in his own image… male and female he created them.”
  • In the New Testament, Luke chapter 1v26-35, God the Father sends the angel Gabriel with the message that God the Holy Spirit will come upon Mary and overshadow her, and God the Son, Jesus… will be born of the virgin… in fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecy in Isaiah.
  • Again in Luke 3v21-22, when Jesus came to be baptised the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove; and the Father spoke from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love: with you I am well pleased.”
  • John 14v15-17 Jesus [the Son] said, ‘I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.’
  • On another occasion, while Jesus was eating with his disciples, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1v4-5)
  • Ephesians 2v18 says: ‘For through him [Jesus] we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.’ (In other words we pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.)
  • There are two distinct passages in the Bible that give a very clear and unequivocal Trinitarian interpretation. In the last sentence of his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul closes with these familiar words: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14) And perhaps the clearest verse in all of Scripture, are the words of Jesus recorded in, what has become known as ‘The Great Commission’: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28v19) – One God three persons.

I love this snippet found in an old copy of an American edition of Reader’s Digest. The article said: ‘While our friends from India travelled around California on business, they left their 11 year-old-daughter with us. Curious about my going to church one Sunday morning, she decided to come along. When we returned home, my husband asked her what she thought of the service. ”I don’t understand why the West Coast isn’t included in the blessing too,” she replied. When we inquired what she meant she added, “You know, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the whole East Coast!”

Jesus’ words in ‘The Great Commission’ make the doctrine of the Trinity plain: “God must be thought of as three in one and one in three. The words in Matthew 28:19 do not say (plural), ‘baptize in the names of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,’ as it would do if there were three separate gods. But neither does it omit the little word ‘of’ and say ‘in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,’ as it would do if these titles only represented aspects of the one God.”

The doctrine of the Trinity is inextricably linked with the divinity of Christ, as taught in the New Testament and as proclaimed in The Nicene Creed (produced in A.D.325 and revised at Constantinople A.D.381), and which begins:

“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made…

One of the early Christian theologians said that trying to explain the Trinity was like trying to empty the ocean with a cup. The doctrine of the Trinity is indeed a mystery that we’ll never be able to fully understand, but we can understand something of its truth by summarizing the teaching of Scripture like this:

  1. God is three persons
  2. Each person is fully God
  3. There is one God.

The concept of the Trinity can never be completely understood or rationalised by the human beings. There have been many attempts at developing illustrations of the Trinity. However, none of the popular illustrations are entirely accurate. The popular egg illustration fails in that the eggshell, the egg white and yolk are parts of the egg; none of them are the egg in and of themselves. Similarly with the apple illustration: the skin, the flesh and seeds of the apple are parts of it, and not the apple itself. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not parts of God; each of them is fully God.

Another model used to try and explain the Trinity is to take three separate measurements of a room; measuring its length, its breadth and its height. Each of the measurements describes something of the room, but you can’t visualise what the room actually looks like without having all three measurements. One room yet with three distinct dimensions.

A better illustration, perhaps, for explaining the Trinity is water, ice and steam as being one of the same essence or substance but with each having a different relationship from the other… yet this too fails to adequately describe the Trinity because water, ice and steam cannot all fill the same place at the same time whereas God can. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not forms of God; each of them is fully God. So, while these illustrations give us a picture of the Trinity, a picture can never be entirely accurate. An infinite all-powerful God cannot be fully described by a finite illustration.

A symbol of the Trinity (known as the “Shield of the Trinity” or “Scutum Fidei”)

In his short book Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, published in 1884, Edwin Abbott writes of a Square living in Flatland, a land of only two dimensions. In a life-changing encounter, the Square receives a visit from the Sphere, who lives in Spaceland, a realm of three dimensions. Even though the Square cannot imagine more than two dimensions (he has nothing in his world to relate), he accepts the word of the Sphere and the existence of a third dimension. However, when he attempts to relay his newfound knowledge to the other inhabitants of Flatland, the Square is treated as a lunatic and locked in jail. In a way, the Square’s plight in Flatland is similar to ours. We cannot understand the concept of a Triune Being any more than the Square could fathom the Sphere. But we accept the Word of God, and by faith we understand that God exists in a realm and in a manner beyond our experience. The egg, the apple, the shamrock, the states of matter, and various geometric shapes are as close as we can come to illustrating the Trinity. We cannot completely understand God’s existence. An infinite God cannot be fully delineated in a finite illustration.

Source: https://www.gotquestions.org/Holy-Trinity.html

Author, Michael Lloyd (a lecturer in Christian doctrine) writes: “God is Trinitarian. Human beings are made in the image of God. If, therefore, we focus on one member of the Trinity to the neglect of the others, we will live out an imbalanced humanity. Most of us do have one member of the Trinity to whom we most easily relate. If we examine our prayers, we will probably notice that we usually have One of the Three in mind as we pray. And if we look to the life of the church we attend, we shall probably find that it too tends to major on one Person of the Trinity. And we needn’t be too worried about that. The other two aren’t going to be offended! But the one we pray to will want to introduce us to the other two, so we have a fuller, richer and more rounded view – and experience – of God. (…) So it is a good spiritual discipline to try consciously to address in prayer the Person(s) of the Trinity with whom we are less immediately comfortable (…) to bring a Trinitarian balance to our spirituality.”

Michael Lloyd, 2005, Café Theology, London: Alpha International, p.306

A pencil drawing depicting the Holy Trinity from the notebook of William Blake (1757-1827)

Why does the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity even matter? Well, because just about everything that matters in Christianity hangs on the truth of God’s three-in-oneness. Take the supreme issue of our sin which separates us from God and renders us subject to his wrath. Theologian, Bruce Milne, wrote: “In the final analysis sin concerns two parties, the offending sinner (us) and the offended God. Hence, if Jesus [is only a man and] is not God, well then my sin really has nothing to do with him.

Once when Jesus forgave a man’s sins he was accused of blasphemy, for only God can forgive sins (Mark 2v5-7). In one sense his critics were perfectly correct; their error lay in not seeing who Jesus was. – Only if Jesus is God come to us in person can he deal with our sins; and conversely, if he deals with our sins, then He must be God.”

Bruce Milne, 1982, Know The Truth, IVP Leicester, p.62-63

‘The Grace’ from The Message translation of the Bible: “The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, and the extravagant love of God, and the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

2 Corinthians 13:14

Apologetics Three Minute Theology What is the Trinity